Evia is a large island near Athens that miraculously avoided the influx of foreign tourists. Nevertheless, it’s a popular destination for Greek holidaymakers. When looking at the breathtaking, alpine scenery of north Evia, the first thought that comes to my mind is ‘space’, or maybe ‘volume’. This can be felt throughout the spacious valleys sprawled among several mountains ranges. Cliffs and ruddy lichens resembling the Scottish landscapes can also be found there, as well as small seaside towns that ring typically Greek. And there’s also hot springs, with a seaview, to boot! North Evia is rather green, by Greek standards, and mainly agricultural, which gives us a feeling of familiarity. The main crops are cotton and grains. Lacking the traits of a tourist destination, its everyday, unsophisticated self comes across as quaint and real — no need for whitewashed houses with blue windows and fancy tavernas.
We, however, were not sightseeing around the island, at least not like most people do. Capricious January weather was one reason, the other being our workaway host, who made sure we felt at home and, for a time, became a part the village life. So we got to meet a ton of his friends and some family, sat around in cafés and ouzerias, sipped tsipouro and nibbled on local snacks. Once late at night, in a smoke-filled kafeneio, we even all tried dancing the Greek men dance zeibekiko. The New Year’s Eve was a family affair, with a traditional cake that had two coins inside, for the king and the queen of the party. The following weeks were filled with wishes of kali chronia (happy year) and every meeting and telephone call was preceded by these two words. We also watched a few madmen taking part in the Epiphaneia ceremony of 6th January who raced in cold sea to grab a cross thrown in by the priest. We were smokers, both active and passive, in every possible place, all the while drinking the tiny Greek coffee and freddo and calling each other malaka*. All things considered, we had great fun!
The other highlight of our stay was the feeding, cuddling and walking with countless furry creatures. At the first host’s, where we’re looking after the grounds around villas for hire (maybe you’re looking for a really great holiday spot?), every morning and evening we fed a tiny troop of goats, sheep, deer and poultry. In between these tasks, we smothered with hugs and kisses a band of cats and dogs, which included the sweetest girl-dog in the world the goes by the name of Scruffy.
At the second host’s, on an organic permaculture farm, I became a chicken chef who sliced and diced the greens for the birds. At the same time Marcin and the other guys were building a higher standard accomodation for them. I also tried to make friends with the mistrustful and exceptionally stubborn donkey-girl Mara. She even managed to pull a fast one on me one evening and spent the night grazing who knows where, while I worriedly tossed and turned around my bunk. But easy does it and by the end of our stay she would let me give back rubs, though ear fondling** was still out of limits.
We also got to know the Greek national spirit which, in fact, we dig. People here resist conforming to any and all expectations and don’t give a damn about laws — drinking and driving is an everyday thing, and with no seat-belts on, obviously. Pressure, hurrying and planning are no-no’s that would greatly delay our departure, and for the better! People here seem distant at first but at the same time always have a smile and a helping hand ready for the newcomers. We also experienced the Greek tranquility, peace of mind amid the economic crisis, the ability to enjoy life despite adverse circumstances and a zen attitude towards things that cannot be changed (ti na kanoume? – what can we do?) After six weeks on Evia we’re feeling thoroughly thankful, richer in new friends, experiences and perceptions and are brimming with appreciation of the nature’s beauty. Now this is traveling!
*malaka(s) (μαλάκας) – one of the first words you’ll hear and learn while here, a ‘wanker’, usually used between friends f0r many purposes
** have you ever touched a donkey’s ear? They seem to be made of furry cardboard and each operates independently of the other 🙂